Start Your Cognitive Clock

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If your physical specialist trained your players to be fit for 45 minutes, what would
you say?

“You’re fired,” might be your first reaction.

“I need 90 minutes of performance so let us redesign our training program,” may be a more patient offering.

Physical fitness and how to achieve it has dominated our football landscape for the past 40 years. (More years if you are German, of course.) We track it. Heat maps, GPS devices, periodization, kilometers run, bleep tests, heart monitors…the list goes on. You have numbers and you get it. The kids need to play for 90 minutes so you make sure that can compete for 95.

How cognitively fit are your players?

No idea, right?

No app to download, no device sewn into the uniform, no harnesses checking your mental fortitude. No bleep or blob tests. Nada.

We don’t track cognitive fitness because we do not value it.

We do not value cognitive fitness because we cannot track it.

Catch 22.

Like physical training, we must train cognitive fitness, track it and value it highly enough so that our players maximize their full potential.

So start with a primitive experiment to see where you stand. Set a cognitive clock. Attend a colleague’s training session like I have done recently and set the timer. When training begins, click the timer on ONLY when the players are actively making decisions. Click it off when they are not. When they are mindlessly drilling without decisions leave the timer frozen like the brains of the children on the pitch. Mental stagnation.

Warm-up laps: timer off.
Unopposed passing drills: timer off.
Standing in lines: timer off.
Dribbling through cones: timer off.
Lectures: timer off.

You get the idea. Timer off. Low wattage. Mental mush.

Now click the timer ON when the children have to perceive their environment, to conceive of options available to them, and to decide upon the best course of action as they see it.

Rondos: timer on.
Position play exercises: timer on.
Small-sided games: timer on.
Training Games: timer on.
Match: timer on.

I recently did this at a youth club training and the total minutes with the timer ON hit 12. Twelve minutes of thinking during a ninety-minute training. Recently I found training that hit 45, half of the session’s programming.

Imagine that this weekend’s match will require 90 minutes of cognitive fitness and your own trainings are building capacity to think for 12 or 45 minutes.

Now, we see why we fail our children so dramatically even with our best intentions. We do this out of ignorance. We also do this out of stubbornness. Awareness and a growth mindset can overcome ignorance. Stubbornness and entitlement are more difficult to combat. You know which coaches I am speaking about when I say entitlement. I am not mentioning names, but they are are ubiquitous.

We can all agree that being physically fit to play 90 minutes is important, as we have agreed on that for years. Are we willing to agree that being alert, aware and capable of finding solutions in real time is of paramount importance to our players? I think so.

I think we can agree that a perceptive player conditioned to think insightfully for the length of a match is one worth developing.

Now let’s agree to do something about it at tonight’s training.

Ready, set, go.

Start your cognitive clocks.


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